Local boaters, undaunted by winter's chill, prepare their vessels for spring


March 25, 2002|By Sue du Pont | Sue du Pont,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FAMILIAR SIGNS of spring are all around. A flurry of activity at marinas, tanned boaters arriving from the south for warm-weather work and Annapolis' perennial sock-burning celebrations signal the start of the new season - whether Mother Nature cooperates on time or not.

With the start of rockfish season for sportfishermen April 20, fishermen are beginning to commission their boats again after a winter on solid ground.

"People are starting to wax their boats," says Merle Cox, general manager at Harbour Cove Marine in Deale. "They are cleaning, painting, having the mechanicals checked and getting ready to put their boats in the water."

Cox estimates that about 50 percent of the boat owners do the work themselves. He expects to see many of the 300 powerboats in the marina's slips and racks to launch around the first of April.

At The Air Works, an Annapolis inflatable-boat repair and sales business, President Howard Shure says business is picking up with the warm weather, but his customers - mostly those with tenders for larger power- and sailboats - are not quite ready to set sail.

"A few are just starting to commission boats, but most of my customers say they'll be going in next month or May," he says.

As sure as Canada geese find their way back north each spring, so do people in the maritime trades. Jessica Faulkner got her start detailing yachts and varnishing the wood on board - known as "bright work" - six years ago at Annapolis Harbor Boatyard. Three years ago, a customer asked Faulkner if she would go to Florida and work on his boat for the winter.

"That got it started," Faulkner says. "I hope it keeps going, 'cause it's nice." She heads to the sunny south after the holidays for two or three months of work and returns to Annapolis to a full slate of repeat customers.

Bobby Allen, a yacht broker with Yachts East in Annapolis, just returned from a winter cruising the Grenadines, in the French West Indies, and the Bahamas with his family and friends. He's spent the past eight or nine winters in warm, sunny places, returning home to old friends and work in Annapolis just in time for the start of boating season.

"People think we are out there in paradise, and we are, but we think about Annapolis every day and miss it," says Allen.

Then there are the sailboat racers who hold down jobs in the area but travel to weeklong regattas in places like Antigua, Key West and Miami. They settle back into a hectic but mostly local sailing scene beginning with Wednesday night races in Annapolis next month.

Fiona Saunders, an experienced sailor who competes aboard top-flight boats, says the winter races are "a great way to get out of the cold weather for a while, get in the sun and look a little healthy."

The winter races are also social.

"Lots of friends we race with go down for the regattas," she says. "You never really know for sure who is going to be there but you always see people you know." But she says she "definitely looks forward to sailing on the bay."

To mark the passing of winter and to make sure that the gods and goddesses of warm weather and boating notice the change in the season, friends and colleagues gathered Wednesday afternoon for an annual ritual. The exact beginnings of the event are shrouded in the fogs of memory, a different story told by many at the apres sock-burning festivities at the Boatyard Bar and Grill.

The consensus is that several years ago on the vernal equinox, former Annapolis resident Bob Turner and his friends started an annual tradition with some beer and a bonfire. They discarded the winter's socks and freed their feet for a sockless summer in topsiders.

This year, at least two ceremonial sock fires burned, one at Eastport Yacht Club and the other at Annapolis Maritime Museum. Kevin Brooks and David Fogle attended the event at the museum where, they say, about 50 people enjoyed succulent fried oysters and the company of 20 or so dogs. Many others celebrated the change of seasons at the yacht club before heading to the Boatyard Bar and Grill, where the revelry began in a room festooned with socks hung with care. There were drink specials after the 6:18 p.m. official sunset for the sockless and local tales told in musical verse by Them Eastport Oyster Boys.

Some joining the festivities had not set their socks aflame and were not so sure spring was really here, myself included. Scott Dodge claims that spring is back when his L.L. Bean boots come off and he puts his topsiders back on for the season. The boots weren't off, nor was his down vest.

John Yanik was still wearing his flannels under his khakis. He is not burning his socks until it gets warmer.

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